MADISON – Alex Erickson has never been one to think too far ahead, a trait likely stemming from his walk-on background. As a former quarterback for Darlington High School, Erickson has always been about the daily focus of making himself a better wide receiver.
But when it was brought to his attention that his career at Wisconsin had only three more games left – including tomorrow’s critical home finale against No.20 Northwestern (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) – until they kicked him out, it put things into perspective.
“It’s weird,” Erickson said. “It’s one of those things you really try to soak up and enjoy every day for what it is. Those days are numbered and now they are really getting low. It’s been a fun ride. I’m trying to make the most of these last few weeks.”
Like most walk-ons, Erickson didn’t know if his opportunity to play a role on Saturdays, let alone make a major impact, would come during his career. He didn’t play football after enrolling in the fall of 2011 and did very little his first spring in 2012, as he adjusted to the game and spent the year working on the scout team.
His second spring was different. With injuries thinning the depth, Erickson’s reps increased along with his confidence.
“I really started to make some plays out there,” said Erickson. “My confidence started to grow. I started to realize, shoot, just keep developing, stay on the same path and I can contribute here.”
Erickson’s contributions to the passing game have been critical. With the Badgers having struggled to develop a legitimate number two receiver the past two season, Erickson has caught 118 passes for 1,603 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 112 yards and responsible for 154 punt return yards this season.
His 127 career receptions tie him with Chris Chambers for seventh most in school history and is only four catches from tying the legendary Al Toon.
“He is a competitor,” UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said in the fall. “He is the definition of a Wisconsin player. He is going to get every last bit of ability that he has in his body. He will play with awareness and anticipation. He is what you want in a kid."
Erickson’s ability to bounce back from injury has also been a trademark. He has suffered a pair of concussions, including one this season in the third quarter of the 10-6 loss to Iowa, but didn’t miss a game the following week. He also suffered a serious meniscus injury following a hit from a South Carolina defender knee injury in the Capital One Bowl. He rehabbed hard enough to get cleared right after spring practices.
"My role was starting to grow and I was starting to mold into that No.3 receiver spot by the end of the season, and then I got that knee injury,” said Erickson. “That was probably the lowest (I’ve been), just trying to keep up, keep that focus because you’ve made up so much ground and just like that it’s taken from you. I’ve learned a lot, how to work, how to come back from that and not to take it for granted."
In the year following the injury, a 2014 season where Melvin Gordon dominated the offense and Wisconsin had inconsistencies at quarterback, Erickson led the team with 55 catches and 772 yards. He had 38 more catches and 575 more yards than any other receiver on the roster.
“I learned a lot from watching that film,” said Erickson. “I learned how I can be better. That was my first real time getting experience, being thrown out in the fire. There were a lot of things we needed to get better at in the pass game, and I look at myself on a lot of those things.”
Erickson doesn’t know what his emotions will be when he runs out of the Camp Randall tunnel for the last time and greets his family. He hopes it will be short and sweet. After all, with two games left in the regular season, there’s still a lot to play for as far as this group of seniors is concerned.
“There’s a lot of emotion on that day, the last time playing at the Camp, but you’ve also got to think in the back of your mind that we’ve still got to play this game, the next game and whatever happens after that” said Erickson. “There’s a lot of football to be played, so it’s also exciting because there’s more to be had.”